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Our Trip Around the World, Part 2 - Japan

Our Trip Around the World, Part 2 - Japan

Old Feb 10th, 2020, 12:59 PM
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Our Trip Around the World, Part 2 - Japan

To see the entire itinerary of our around the world trip, you can view our trip report, “Celebrating 50 Years - Our Trip Around the World” under the Travel Tips and Trip Ideas forum. Also you can visit Part 1 of our report, “Off to Honolulu via Chicago” in the United States forum.
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Old Feb 10th, 2020, 01:48 PM
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When we were planning our trip around the world to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, we didn’t immediately decide to include Japan. Hong Kong, an intermediate stop with plenty of flights to choose from, was an option we considered instead. The weather in March might not be ideal in Japan, we found. The data indicated that March in Japan was often cold and rainy and basically just downright unpleasant. Plus, Japan, as far as as language, culture, and of course, food, might be a little too far outside our comfort zone, we were afraid. We have traveled often to Europe, but Japan seemed very different to us in so many ways, and as independent travelers, it was rather intimidating. Ultimately, however, we settled on including Japan in our itinerary, and we were so glad we did. It was very different, but the things we had worried about were not issues for us at all. Language didn’t prove to be a problem, as signage was often in English as well as Japanese, and many of the Japanese people we interacted with spoke at least some English. Japanese culture we found to be delightful, with manners, customs, traditions and the arts so new to us and so interesting, from the polite bows we received everywhere to the taxicabs with their starched white lace doilies. We marveled at the cleanliness of the streets and subways and we were overwhelmed by the vast underground transportation systems and commercial spaces. The colorful kimonos worn by the woman in Kyoto were gorgeous in a very different way from the brilliant neon advertisements filling the streets of Osaka but both were dazzling. Japanese culture was a great eye opening adventure for us and the food was a wonderful part of the experience. Whether it was the beef curry in the airport lounge, the conveyer belt sushi in Osaka or the many bowls of all the various noodles we consumed, we liked Japanese food a lot.

So, after our 9 hour and 40 minute flight from Honolulu, we landed in Osaka and the next leg of our round the world adventure began.
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Old Feb 10th, 2020, 03:09 PM
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Signing on. Isn't it amazing how clean Japan is?
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Old Feb 10th, 2020, 04:41 PM
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Yes, thursdaysd, my husband was just blown away by the cleanliness of Japan. So many people and no litter anywhere. That is a cultural attribute that would be welcomed anywhere in the world.
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Old Feb 11th, 2020, 09:22 AM
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Can you tell more about the food here? I've heard that Osaka has a food street with a lot of fun sign
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Old Feb 11th, 2020, 12:33 PM
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Leanh94, the huge plastic and neon signs advertising all sorts of foods, and I’m not sure what else, in the Dotombori district of Osaka were crazy and lots of fun. We visited Dotombori street and other parts of the Namba area as part of a short tour of Osaka, and although it was a brief visit it was unforgettable. From a huge plastic crab waving his claws on the front of a seafood restaurant to a storefront encircled by a working Ferris wheel, it was amazing. I will add more detail later on in my trip report. Thanks for your interest.
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Old Feb 12th, 2020, 01:08 PM
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ARRIVING IN OSAKA

Our welcome to Japan was one of those little unexpected moments in travel that just feel so good. Back in Honolulu, during our slightly stressful shuttle trip to the airport on the morning of our departure, our driver stopped to pick up two Japanese women, a mother and her daughter, I think, who were traveling together. As they boarded the shuttle van, they each greeted us with a pleasant “Good morning”. “Konnichiwa”, we responded, happy to practice our very limited Japanese, and they each rewarded us with a musical little laugh. After exiting the van, we didn’t see the ladies again until we arrived in Japan and boarded the airport tram on the way to customs. Suddenly, there they were, our fellow shuttle passengers, standing right next to us. The tram was crowded and they began motioning for me to take the one remaining empty seat. I hesitated, but they would not take no for an answer. As we rode along, we had a pleasant exchange, with their limited English and my very limited Japanese, but with lots of smiles and head bobbing and laughter. When the tram stopped, we were separated as we queued into different lines through customs, but at one point I looked over and saw them leaving. They looked back, noticed us and gave us a big wave and more smiles. So welcoming! Our encounter with these charming women was the perfect introduction to Japan and its people.
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Old Feb 13th, 2020, 01:45 PM
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ARRIVING IN OSAKA (Continued)

Often I have found that the logistics upon arriving in a new place can be stressful, and so, after plenty of research, I decided to obtain some yen and purchase Pasmo cards before we left home. We could have gotten both the yen and the Pasmo cards at the Osaka airport, but I thought that having them already at hand would make for one less thing to worry about upon landing. Pasmo cards are a type of rechargeable card that can be used on public transportation (trains, subways and buses) and at convenience stores throughout Japan. To use the card you simply need to tap it on a reader and away you go. We found the card to be easy and convenient to use. Also, in the interest of simplicity, I booked the Hotel Granvia Osaka which is attached to Osaka’s main train station. There is a direct train connection from the airport to the main station, so I figured it would be easy for us to find the hotel once we left the train. However, even with detailed directions supplied by the hotel, we still got slightly lost. We soon learned how vast and meandering the transportation centers are in Japanese cities, as they extend both above and under the ground in all directions. But, finally, after a few wrong turns, we found our way to the hotel lobby where the check in process was almost a ritual, with carefully offered greetings and polite formalities at each level of service. It wasn’t long, however, before we were shown to our room, which was small and had no view but was still lovely. Decorated in dark shades of plum and chocolate, the room had touches of art glass that gleamed in the soft light and made for a very relaxing vibe. The adjoining bathroom was marvelous, with a deep soaking tub and an interesting unenclosed rain shower. Well laid out and comfortable, this space was just what we needed after a very long day. We decided not to venture out to eat at a restaurant but just bought some ready made sandwiches in the station and settled down on the comfy little sofa in our room for dinner. Perfect.
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Old Feb 13th, 2020, 04:24 PM
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Normally you can't get Pasmo cards in Osaka - Osaka mainly uses the Icoca card. They are however virtually interchangeable. If you wanted to refund the card balance at the end of your trip though, you'd only be able to do it on Tokyo, not Osaka.
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Old Feb 14th, 2020, 08:21 AM
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Sorry if my information regarding the purchase of Pasmo cards at Osaka airport was incorrect. I researched Japanese IC cards well before our trip and settled on the Pasmo card as best for our needs and, as I said, it worked great. But my memory can be fuzzy and I don’t want to mislead anyone into thinking you can buy this card at the Osaka airport if you cannot. I do remember that we cashed in the unused balance at Tokyo-Narita airport, which was a pretty straightforward transaction, I think. Thank you, Adastra 2200, for helping to clear things up.
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Old Feb 14th, 2020, 09:48 AM
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Thank you for your wonderful report about your trip. It has all the wonderful information

Hope one day I can go to Japan like you. Wish you all the best
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Old Feb 15th, 2020, 01:06 PM
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Thank you, leanh94. I hope you make it to Japan someday too.

MORE OF OSAKA

Our first view of Japan was out of the train window on the way from the airport. It was raining, and in the late afternoon gloom a few lights reflected into puddles. Up and down the streets, seemingly oblivious to the rain, people were riding bicycles, maneuvering through traffic as they held umbrellas upright and steady above their heads. Often, the bikes were laden with packages or the rider was burdened with a heavy backpack or briefcase, but both young and old pedaled adeptly along with their heads high and backs straight, gripping their umbrellas, unperturbed by the elements. Somehow this first glimpse of everyday life in Japan, dimly lit and atmospheric as it was, seemed at once both ordinary and dramatic to me. I won’t forget it.

So, after a good nights sleep, and breakfast gleaned from the hotel’s executive lounge, we were ready to see more of Osaka and Japan. Originally, I had tried to arrange for one of the free tours I had read about which are offered by local people eager to practice their English. I didn’t have much luck there, but I did eventually connect with a tour operation that would organize a three hour walking tour for us. I can’t remember what fee they charged but it seemed reasonable, I thought. Still feeling somewhat out of our depth as independent travelers in Japan, we felt it would be good to have someone guide us around, answer some of our questions and just help orient us on our first day. Right on time at 10:00 am, our tour guide, Richard, showed up in the lobby of our hotel. Richard was not Japanese, but Slovakian, and had been living in Osaka for 3 years. As we didn’t really have any idea of where to go on such a short tour, he took charge and decided we should visit the Dotonbori district, an area famous for its restaurants and entertainment venues. It sounded good to us so off we went. Richard was soon leading us through arcades, malls and streets filled with all manner of signs competing shoulder to shoulder for the attention of the passersby. Some of the signs were huge and cartoonish. Many were animated. They were all very colorful, flashy and even bizarre. It was a spectacle that must be really amazing at night.

It was soon time for lunch, and Richard suggested a conveyer belt sushi restaurant, which seemed the perfect sort of meal to have in a place like this. He helped us navigate the unique ordering system and guided us in making selections from the menu. It was fun watching the artfully arranged bits of fish, rice and vegetables flow past us on the conveyer belt and, as novice sushi eaters, we were pleased with Richard’s selections.

Richard, not being Japanese, had an unique perspective on Japanese culture, not all positive but seemingly based on his experiences as a foreigner living in the country. He was outspoken and somewhat opinionated, but he put effort into making our tour worthwhile and we enjoyed our tour with him. At the tour’s end, he escorted us back to the hotel where we picked up our bags and somehow found the right train to Kyoto. Soon we were on our way to our four night stay in beautiful Kyoto.
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Old Feb 17th, 2020, 06:42 AM
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Dear Candace,

I am very much ineterested in reading more about your trip.

Does your report end here or have you already written about Kyoto?

In that case, where can I find your report?

Thank you!
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Old Feb 17th, 2020, 11:31 AM
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Thank you, Lauraestefa, for your interest. Hopefully, I can finish my report on the Japanese leg of our trip in the next few days.
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Old Feb 17th, 2020, 11:37 AM
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Looking forward to more. Great start!
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Old Feb 17th, 2020, 01:52 PM
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KYOTO ACCOMMODATIONS:

The train ride from Osaka to Kyoto took about 90 minutes. Taxis were lined up outside the station and we were soon on our way to the Hotel Kyoto Inn Gion. Even though this hotel had good reviews on TripAdvisor, I was worried it might not be a comfortable place to spend 4 nights, as the pictured rooms looked quite small and didn’t appear to have any place to sit except on the bed. Now that we are older, we like to be able to relax in our room after being out and about sightseeing for hours, and a cozy place to sit and read or catch up on my journal is important to me. But I soon found my worries about this hotel to be groundless. The room was not spacious but it was well laid out, with a little desk, a small table and 2 chairs, a mini fridge, and a big closet. The bed, made up of two twins pushed together, was quite comfortable, and I was astounded to find that the very firm and lumpy pillows, which were filled on one side with beans, were actually super comfy. Breakfast, with either a Japanese or a western option offered every morning , was served in a room off the lobby. Feeling adventurous, I did try the Japanese breakfast once, but it was a little too exotic for me that early in the day. We found the people at the hotel’s reception desk to be friendly and helpful. They gave us lots of tips about where to eat and how to get around using public transportation, and made us feel at home right away. We really enjoyed our four nights at the Hotel Kyoto Inn Gion and would recommend it as a good place to stay in the wonderful Gion district of Kyoto.

COLORFUL KYOTO:

Bright, modern Osaka is colorful with all the intensity of the neon lights, the flashy bling of the billboards, and the crazy plastic storefront signage in the commercial Dotonbori district. Ancient Kyoto is colorful too in a very different way. The colors of Kyoto are displayed in the sheen of lacquer, the shimmer of silk, and the gleam of gilded surfaces. From shrines painted red, orange, and yellow , to a temple covered in gold, from red, black, and white banners lining a path to a tall pagoda trimmed in deep, darkened wood carving, the colors are both vibrant and subtle. It is the richness and depth of history and tradition that colors Kyoto. Highlighting that history and tradition are the pretty girls everywhere dressed in beautifully patterned, rainbow colored, silk kimonos, scattered and grouped around the edges of the temples and shrines, like so many ever- changing flower arrangements. Unforgettable.
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Old Feb 17th, 2020, 06:06 PM
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I didn't understand one detail well. Osaka to Kyoto by train taking 90 minutes? I take a limited express train, which only takes 30 minutes, and a rapid train takes just a little more than that (I avoid them during rush hour though). The bullet train will get you there in 15 minutes.
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Old Feb 18th, 2020, 06:46 AM
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You are right, Adastra, the train from Osaka to Kyoto was 30 minutes, not 90 minutes. Don’t know how I made that error, but thanks for the correction. I apologize, and I’m glad for the fact checking.
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Old Feb 19th, 2020, 02:22 PM
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TOURING KYOTO:

Rather than giving much in depth tourist information for the sights we visited in Kyoto, which I figure can be found in guide books or online, I thought I’d just briefly describe where we went and our impressions of what we saw.

On our our first morning, we woke to sunny skies but chilly temperatures. Our plan for the day was to visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine in the morning and the Kiyomizudera Temple in the afternoon. With help from the desk clerk at our hotel, we figured out the bus routes we needed to take, and we were soon on our way.

Fushimi Inari Shrine is dedicated to the Shinto god of rice and saki. At the base of Mount Inari, the imposing main shrine, painted bright red with accents of pure white and and touches of gold, was brilliant against the deep blue sky. But the most breathtaking sight was the vast line of Torii gates leading up the mountain. Striated strips of sunlight and shadows highlighted the gates, which were painted with variations of color, from vermilion to orange and even pink. They were packed so tightly together that they created tunnels through the woods. Where the area below us at the main shrine was packed with tourists, up here through the gates there were fewer people. We often came across small groups of women clad in kimonos. They looked beautiful moving along the colorful gates. Scattered along the way were various small shrines, often displaying fox statues, large and small. The foxes, jaunty in cloth neckerchiefs, stood vigilant as guardians, and messengers, for the gods. Often these little shrines were surrounded by gay red, black, and white banners, fluttering in the breeze. We walked further up the wooded hillside, then up some more. Near the top, we were startled by a monkey mother with a baby riding on her back. Too bad she was too quick for us to take her picture. For us, that was the crowning point of our tour through Fushimi-Ku. We turned around and made our way back down the mountain. Time to find lunch.
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Old Feb 19th, 2020, 07:48 PM
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Really enjoying your writing and reliving my trip to Japan.
Such a gorgeous country and wonderful, polite people. I also loved the girls dressed up in colorful kimonos all over Kyoto. When we saw a group of teenage girls, we asked them why were they not in school as it was a weekday.
They told us, they are actually on a field trip by themselves. They were learning about ancient Japanese culture by wearing kimonos for the day and touring the various shrines and temples. We took many photos with them.
Waiting for more details from you.
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